The Foundation of Success

Al Jacobs

A most impressive full-page announcement, sponsored by the Wall Street Journal, appeared in their newspaper just two days before Thanksgiving. The full top half of the page is devoted to just six massive words: “Success Is Not A Solo Venture.”


The lower portion of the page devotes itself to the WSJ Women Community, an organization championed by that publication and designed to further the opportunities for women in the workplace. As they claim: “Now, we’ve created a community where women define success for themselves and build authentic connections. It’s your first stop for insights you can trust, from women who’ve been there.”

What draws my attention is not an aversion to the enhancement of opportunities for women, nor to the concept of women working together jointly to advance their best interests. These are, in my opinion, the basic criteria for organizational achievement, irrespective of gender. What piques my interest – and perhaps disquietingly – are the first six words: “Success Is Not A Solo Venture.”

I’m fully aware that over the past generation or so the concept of accomplishment became embedded in controversy. What attributes are credited as the basis for success or failure are no longer fundamental personal abilities or defects, but rather a mixture of societal circumstances. Nowhere is this more evident than in the field of education.

In an earlier time, the public schools existed to provide basic education to those youngsters who exhibited the ability and willingness to adhere to a prescribed schedule of instruction. Those who did not or could not conform to the regimen became disenrolled. The nation’s schools operated economically and performed their function admirably.

I’m no longer certain what the fundamental purpose of schooling is meant to be. If it’s designed to take the majority of readily educable pupils to a level of reasonable academic proficiency as quickly and economically as possible, that’s one thing. If, however, its purpose is to transform, in some fashion, every single child in the nation, regardless of ability, into well-schooled individuals, it’s another matter altogether. Forced schooling beyond a student’s ability does neither the student nor the educational system any good whatever.

An editorial in a prominent newspaper recently castigated the school system, as it contended: “California is failing to educate students. One of our defects is the pitiful outcomes for minority and low-income students. For the economically disadvantaged, only 35.52% demonstrate proficiency in English and 24.57% in math. Our students deserve better.”

Although I’m not the editor of a prestigious newspaper, I too hold opinions concerning education. As I grew up during the Great Depression, my family was as low income as possible. I nonetheless performed reasonably well in my classes, but only because I studied my lessons and completed my assignments to the best of my ability. It’s quite likely the editor’s comment “Our students deserve better” warrants being revised to “Those students who are failing to take advantage of our school system deserve the poor grades they receive.”

I’ll interject with this testimonial: During my ten years as a classroom instructor, I made a fascinating discovery. My bright students who worked hard did well. Those who were bright but slacked off, as well as those not particularly bright but who worked hard, managed to get by. Those neither bright nor hard-working failed. Simply stated, education is not a collective endeavor; it is a singular accomplishment. Exactly how the collective “we” can close the achievement gap is beyond my understanding.

And while we are evaluating collectivism, let’s take a look at homelessness. If ever a problem existed whereby each of the bereft subjects are effectively detached from one another, this is it. But despite the individual nature of the many homeless who occupy the streets, the activities taken to resolve their problems are collective in nature.

For the past five years Los Angeles residents watched with alarm as homeless encampments sprung up throughout the city. The local authorities estimate the city’s homeless population to be 28,000, with about 156,000 people homeless at some point each year. In addition, because of the restrictions and provisions written into the bond measures by the many interested parties, each homeless unit will most likely cost about $420,000; the supplemental funds required must come from other local, state and federal grants, yet to be arranged.

Society evolved – or perhaps devolved – to the point where the homeless are now an acceptable segment of society, entitled to those benefits befitting a privileged class. I must only presume, unhappily, the productive citizens of this country will henceforth be required to support these people in the style to which they are becoming accustomed. It is understandable why elected officials dream up programs with outlandish costs. As they contribute not a dime of their own money, persons with no proprietary interest in a project can therefore spend with abandon.

Individuals unable to conduct their lives in a sensible manner, whether due to repeated substance abuse, irrational approaches to the normal problems encountered in life or uncontrollable urges of all sorts, will subsist on the margin of sustainability. Homelessness is merely one of the events which occur. As you might expect, our elected officials will devise grandiose programs for interjecting significance into meaningless lives.

Huge sums of money will be expended in an effort to alter human nature. And you may be certain there’ll be countless studies and reports providing statistical evidence of the success of such efforts. Never doubt there will be a constant barrage of official pronouncement to assure us only failure to infuse additional funding stands in the way of complete victory over homelessness. If you express a contrary view, it’s clear you are nothing but an impediment to progress.

According to the annual report of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, on any given night about 134,000 Californians are without shelter. Whether they are bedding down on a street corner, curling up alongside a dumpster, or provided with a cot in a shelter, they will awaken the following morning to spend a day roaming the streets.

And what is being done by the establishment to ameliorate the problem? Committees are formed to study the matter; survey crews are hired to count the homeless; bond issues are passed to throw money here and there; and elected officials issue proclamations castigating one another

A likely conjecture: I doubt current effects to eradicate homelessness will be successful. Politicians will continue to collectively eulogize the homeless but decline to do anything to actually improve their circumstances. In addition, although there will be a continuation of allocations of massive sums of money for programs ostensibly designed to house the destitute, the funds will instead be siphoned off and effectively appropriated by those persons in positions to do so.

And finally, as the next generation surveys the scene a quarter century from now, there will be another generation of homeless squatting under the same bridges and overhangs as those today.

This now brings us back to the matter of providing collective solutions to the problems women encounter, for as the impressive slogan proclaims: “Success Is Not A Solo Venture.” Thus, if a woman enrolls in a course of study and by diligently fulfilling each requirement becomes a thoroughly competent and highly regarded member of her profession, the WSJ Women Community contends she may not be credited as a success … for unless she is a participant in some collective endeavor, the end result must be ignored.

As I recall the past, and the status in which women were held, only three occupations seemed available: nurse, schoolteacher and secretary. Times change; fields in which they now proliferate include architecture, law, computer sciences, engineering, doctorates in medicine and university professors. And you may add politics to the list, for their numbers are rapidly growing; 30 women, double the number of only a short time ago, are currently members of the U.S. House of Representatives – including Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

A final comment: One of my closest female friends is an independently practicing trial attorney and self-made multimillionairess. She grew to adulthood in a poverty-stricken home. She is bright and hardworking, personally financed her way while earning the necessary university degrees and gained her legal expertise by diligence and persistence. I know of no organization, collective or otherwise, from which she ever received meaningful assistance of any sort. I believe it fair to say in this particular case – as in so many others – Success Was Most Assuredly A Solo Venture.

Al Jacobs, a professional investor for nearly a half- century, issues weekly financial articles in which he shares his financial knowledge and experience. Al may be contacted at



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